Democrats Push Homeland Security Overhaul After Trump Moves (1)

  • Legislation first introduced last fall but didn’t advance
  • Law enforcement oversight, constitutional protections targeted

(Adds detail about upcoming hearing in third paragraph.)

The Department of Homeland Security’s operations would be overhauled under a proposal House Democrats introduced Friday.

Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), chair of the House Homeland Security Committee, reintroduced legislation aimed at depoliticizing the department, increasing oversight of its law enforcement activities, and strengthening its protection of civil rights and civil liberties.

The push comes ahead of a hearing planned for July 15 on overhauling DHS, according to two people familiar with the plans. It will feature witnesses who have called for updating the agency’s leadership structure to provide more oversight.

Photo: Samuel Corum/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) speaks at the U.S. Capitol on July 1, 2021.

Thompson’s proposal, cosponsored by other committee Democrats, attempts to address concerns that DHS has grown unwieldy and sometimes ineffective since its creation in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

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It also zeroes in on issues that arose during the Trump administration, including strict immigration policies, a rotating cast of acting leaders, and the use of DHS agents at racial justice protests in Portland, Ore., last year.

The bill would create a new associate secretary to oversee DHS law enforcement, including at U.S. Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and it would require an update to the agency’s use-of-force policy. Other provisions would limit who’s eligible to serve as acting secretary or head of a DHS component and expand the role of the department’s Privacy Office and Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties.

The legislation “will help build back DHS better, put it on a path to normalcy, and to help inoculate it from future misuse,” Thompson said in a statement Friday. “For DHS to effectively secure the nation from the diverse threats that it faces, the public must have confidence that the Department is both transparent and accountable.”

Ranking member John Katko (R-N.Y.) is reviewing the bill, an aide said.

Thompson introduced a similar measure last fall, but it didn’t advance.

To contact the reporter on this story: Ellen M. Gilmer in Washington at egilmer@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Sarah Babbage at sbabbage@bgov.com; Robin Meszoly at rmeszoly@bgov.com

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